Afro-American scholars should study how American literature deals with the Black experience, Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison said Wednesday.
Morrison's talk was the last of three lectures about her research on Africanism, the metaphorical presence of race in American culture.
Morrison's final lecture dealt with themes of "Blackness" in Ernest Hemingway's novels To Have and Have Not and The Garden of Eden.
The Princeton humanities professor said that Africanism appears in traditional American literature when white writers create Black characters or use metaphors of "Blackness"--even subconsciously--in order to help define their views of America.
Africanism is not only represented through Black characters, but also by the "crafty" use of language that directs ideas against the "surface meaning" of the text, Morrison said.
"My interest in the work is not how white writers treat Black characters," Morrison said, explaining that she is studying how the depiction of Black characters creates a "mirror of society as it is."
In To Have and Have Not, Wesley, a Black deckhand, is used solely as a foil to highlight the white protagonist's heroic qualities, she said.
Morrison said that Hemingway was not self-conscious about his portrayal of Black characters because he was "innocent of the 20th century political agenda and free of postmodern sensitivity."
Although isolated "nuggets" of study on Africanism do exist, they have "not been put together in a systematic form," Morrison said.
She added that she was unsure if American society was ready to accept this type of investigation, but told other Afro-American scholars in the crowd that they "should not rely on others" to do this type of research.
"This work is part and parcel of what Afro-American study should be about," Morrison said.